Posted December 11, 2014
The FCC announced in March of this year that it would begin treating TV Joint Sales Agreements between two local TV stations involving more than 15% of a station's advertising time as an attributable ownership interest. However, it also announced at that time that it would provide parties to existing JSAs two years from the effective date of the new rule to make any necessary modifications to ensure compliance with the FCC's multiple ownership rule. As I wrote in June when the new rule went into effect, that made June 19, 2016 the deadline for addressing any issues with existing JSAs.
However, the STELA Reauthorization Act of 2014 (STELAR) became law on December
4, 2014. While the primary purpose of STELAR was to extend for an additional five years the compulsory copyright license allowing satellite TV providers to import distant network TV signals to their subscribers where no local affiliate is available, as often happens in Congress, a number of unrelated provisions slipped into the bill. One of those provisions extended the JSA grandfathering period by a somewhat imprecise "six months".
Today, the FCC released a Public Notice announcing that it would deem December 19, 2016 to be the new deadline for making any necessary modifications to existing TV JSAs to ensure compliance with the FCC's multiple ownership rule. As a result, in those situations where the treatment of a JSA as an attributable ownership interest would create a violation of the FCC's local ownership limits, the affected broadcaster will need to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that it has remedied that situation by the December 19, 2016 deadline.
Annual DTV Ancillary/Supplementary Services Report Due for Commercial and Noncommercial Digital Television Stations
Posted December 1, 2014
All commercial and noncommercial educational digital television broadcast station licensees and permittees must file FCC Form 317 by December 1, 2014.
The FCC requires all digital television stations, including all commercial and noncommercial educational full power television stations, digital low power television stations, digital translator television stations, and digital Class A television stations, to submit FCC Form 317 each year. The report details whether stations provided ancillary or supplemental services at any time during the twelve-month period ending on the preceding September 30. It is important to note that the FCC Form 317 must be submitted regardless of whether stations offered any such services. FCC Form 317 must be filed electronically, absent a waiver, and is due on December 1, 2014.
Ancillary or supplementary services are all services provided on the portion of a DTV station's digital spectrum that is not necessary to provide the required single free, over-the-air signal to viewers. Any video broadcast service that is provided with no direct charge to viewers is exempt. According to the FCC, examples of services that are considered ancillary or supplementary include, but are not limited to, "computer software distribution, data transmissions, teletext, interactive materials, aural messages, paging services, audio signals, subscription video, and the like."
If a DTV station provided ancillary or supplementary services during the 12-month time period ending on September 30, 2014, it must pay the FCC 5% of the gross revenues derived from the provision of those services. This payment can be forwarded to the FCC's lockbox at the U.S. Bank in St. Louis, Missouri and must be accompanied by FCC Form 159, the Remittance Advice. Alternatively, the fee can be paid electronically using a credit card on the FCC's website. The fee amount must also be submitted by the December 1, 2014 due date.
A PDF version of this article can be found at Annual DTV Ancillary/Supplementary Services Report Due for Commercial and Noncommercial Digital Television Stations.
Pre-Filing and Post-Filing License Renewal Announcement Reminder for TV Stations in New Jersey and New York
Posted December 1, 2014
TV, Class A TV, and locally originating LPTV stations licensed to communities in New Jersey and New York must begin airing pre-filing license renewal announcements on December 1, 2014. License renewal applications for all TV stations in New Jersey and New York are due by February 2, 2015.
Pre-Filing License Renewal Announcements
Stations in the video services that are licensed to communities in New Jersey and New York must file their license renewal applications by February 2, 2015.
Beginning two months prior to that filing, full power TV, Class A TV, and LPTV stations capable of local origination must air four pre-filing renewal announcements alerting the public to the upcoming license renewal application filing. These stations must air the first pre-filing announcement on December 1, 2014. The remaining announcements must air on December 16, 2014 and January 1, and January 16, 2015, for a total of four announcements. A sign board or slide showing the licensee's address and the FCC's Washington DC address must be displayed while the pre-filing announcements are broadcast.
For commercial stations, at least two of these four announcements must air between 6:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. (Eastern/Pacific) or 5:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. (Central/Mountain). Locally-originating LPTV stations must broadcast these announcements as close to the above schedule as their operating schedule permits. Noncommercial stations must air the announcements at the same times as commercial stations, but need not air any announcements in a month in which the station does not operate. A noncommercial station that will not air some announcements because it is off the air must air the remaining announcements as listed above, i.e., the first two must air between 6:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. (Eastern/Pacific) or 5:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. (Central/Mountain).
The text of the pre-filing announcement is as follows:
On [date of last renewal grant], [call letters] was granted a license by the Federal Communications Commission to serve the public interest as a public trustee until June 1, 2015. [Stations which have not received a renewal grant since the filing of their previous renewal application should modify the foregoing to read: "(Call letters) is licensed by the Federal Communications Commission to serve the public interest as a public trustee."]
Our license will expire on June 1, 2015. We must file an application for renewal with the FCC by February 1, 2015. When filed, a copy of this application will be available for public inspection at www.fcc.gov. It contains information concerning this station's performance during the last eight years [or other period of time covered by the application, if the station's license term was not a standard eight-year license term].
Individuals who wish to advise the FCC of facts relating to our renewal application and to whether this station has operated in the public interest should file comments and petitions with the Commission by May 1, 2015.
Further information concerning the FCC's broadcast license renewal process is available at [address of location of the station] or may be obtained from the FCC, Washington, DC 20554.
If a station misses airing an announcement, it should broadcast a make-up announcement as soon as possible and contact us to further address the situation. As noted above, special rules apply to noncommercial stations that do not normally operate during any month when their announcements would otherwise be required to air, as well as to other silent stations. These stations should contact us to ensure they give the required public notice.
Annual EEO Public File Report Deadline for Stations in Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Vermont
Posted December 1, 2014
This Broadcast Station Advisory is directed to radio and television stations in Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Vermont, and highlights the upcoming deadlines for compliance with the FCC's EEO Rule.
December 1, 2014 is the deadline for broadcast stations licensed to communities in Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Vermont to place their Annual EEO Public File Report in their public inspection files and post the reports on their station websites.
Under the FCC's EEO Rule, all radio and television station employment units ("SEUs"), regardless of staff size, must afford equal opportunity to all qualified persons and practice nondiscrimination in employment.
In addition, those SEUs with five or more full-time employees ("Nonexempt SEUs") must also comply with the FCC's three-prong outreach requirements. Specifically, all Nonexempt SEUs must (i) broadly and inclusively disseminate information about every full-time job opening, except in exigent circumstances, (ii) send notifications of full-time job vacancies to referral organizations that have requested such notification, and (iii) earn a certain minimum number of EEO credits, based on participation in various non-vacancy-specific outreach initiatives ("Menu Options") suggested by the FCC, during each of the two-year segments (four segments total) that comprise a station's eight-year license term. These Menu Option initiatives include, for example, sponsoring job fairs, participating in job fairs, and having an internship program.
Nonexempt SEUs must prepare and place their Annual EEO Public File Report in the public inspection files and on the websites of all stations comprising the SEU (if they have a website) by the anniversary date of the filing deadline for that station's license renewal application. The Annual EEO Public File Report summarizes the SEU's EEO activities during the previous 12 months, and the licensee must maintain adequate records to document those activities. Stations must also submit to the FCC the two most recent Annual EEO Public File Reports at the midpoint of their license term and with their license renewal application.
Exempt SEUs -- those with fewer than 5 full time employees -- do not have to prepare or file Annual or Mid-Term EEO Reports.
For a detailed description of the EEO rule and practical assistance in preparing a compliance plan, broadcasters should consult The FCC's Equal Employment Opportunity Rules and Policies - A Guide for Broadcasters published by Pillsbury's Communications Practice Group. This publication is available at: http://www.pillsburylaw.com/publications/broadcasters-guide-to-fcc-equal-employment-opportunity-rules-policies.
Biennial Ownership Reports are due by December 1, 2014 for Noncommercial Radio Stations in CO, MN, MT, ND, SD and Noncommercial Television Stations in AL, CT, GA, ME, MA, NH, RI and VT
Posted December 1, 2014
The staggered deadlines for noncommercial radio and television stations to file Biennial Ownership Reports remain in effect and are tied to each station's respective license renewal filing deadline.
Noncommercial radio stations licensed to communities in Colorado, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota and noncommercial television stations licensed to communities in Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont must electronically file their Biennial Ownership Reports by December 1, 2014. Licensees must file using FCC Form 323-E and must also place the form as filed in their stations' public inspection files. Television stations must assure that a copy of the form is posted to their online public inspection files at https://stations.fcc.gov.
In 2009, the FCC issued a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking comments on whether the Commission should adopt a single national filing deadline for all noncommercial radio and television broadcast stations like the one that the FCC has established for all commercial radio and television stations. In January 2013, the FCC renewed that inquiry. Until a decision is reached, noncommercial radio and television stations continue to be required to file their biennial ownership reports every two years by the anniversary date of the station's license renewal application filing deadline.
A PDF version of this article can be found at Biennial Ownership Reports are due by December 1, 2014 for Noncommercial Radio Stations in Colorado, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota and Noncommercial Television Stations in Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
Posted November 21, 2014
At its Open Meeting this morning, the FCC adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to "modernize" its station-conducted contest rule, which was originally adopted in 1976. The proposal would allow broadcasters to post the rules of a contest on any publicly accessible website. Stations would no longer have to broadcast the contest rules if they instead announce the full website address where the rules can be found each time they promote or advertise the contest on-air.
Currently, the FCC's rule requires that broadcasters sponsoring a contest must "fully and accurately disclose the material terms of the contest" and subsequently conduct the contest substantially as announced. A note to the rule explains that "[t]he material terms should be disclosed periodically by announcements broadcast on the station conducting the contest, but need not be enumerated each time an announcement promoting the contest is broadcast. Disclosure of material terms in a reasonable number of announcements is sufficient."
Of course what terms are "material" and what number of announcements is "reasonable" have been open to interpretation. A review of many past issues of Pillsbury's Enforcement Monitor reveals numerous cases where a station was accused of having failed to disclose on-air a material term of a contest, or of deviating from the announced rules in conducting a contest. Even where a station's efforts are ultimately deemed sufficient, the licensee has been put in the delicate position of defending its disclosure practices as "reasonable," which has the effect of accusing a disappointed listener or viewer of being "unreasonable" in having not understood the disclosures made.
Adopting the rule change proposed by the FCC today would simplify a broadcaster's defense of its actions because a written record of what was posted online will be available for the FCC to review. Accordingly, questions about whether the station aired the rules, or aired them enough times for the listener/viewer to understand all the material terms of the contest would be less important from an FCC standpoint. Instead, the listener/viewer will be expected to access the web version of the rules and benefit from the opportunity to review those rules at a more leisurely pace, no longer subjected to a fast-talker recitation of the rules on radio, or squinting at a mouseprint crawl at the bottom of a television screen. While the FCC's willingness to accept online disclosures is certainly welcome, the question of what disclosures must be made in the first instance remains. In fact, the FCC asks in the NPRM whether its rules should dictate a set of "material" terms to be disclosed online.
In our Advertising and Sweepstakes practice, we frequently advise sponsors of contests and sweepstakes on how to conduct legal contests, including the drafting of contest rules and the sufficiency of the sponsor's disclosure of those rules in advertisements. In addition to the FCC's rule requiring disclosure of "material" terms, the consumer protection laws of nearly every state prohibit advertising the availability of a prize in a false or misleading manner. What terms will be "material" and essential to making a disclosure not false or misleading is a very fact-specific issue, and will vary significantly depending on the exact nature of the contest involved. As a result, regardless of whether the FCC dictates a prescribed set of "material" terms to be disclosed, the terms will still have to satisfy state disclosure requirements.
The FCC (with regard to station-conducted contests) and state Attorney Generals (with regard to all contests and sweepstakes) investigate whether contests and sweepstakes have been conducted fairly and in accordance with the advertised rules. These investigations usually arise in response to a consumer complaint that the contest was not conducted in the manner the consumer expected. Many of these investigations can be avoided by: (1) having well-drafted contest rules that anticipate common issues which often arise in administering a contest or sweepstakes, and (2) assuring that statements promoting the contest are consistent with those rules.
While, as Commissioner Pai noted, the public does not generally find contest disclosure statements to be "compelling" listening or viewing, and may well change channels to avoid them, the individual states are going to continue to require adequate public disclosure of contest rules, even if that means continued on-air disclosures. If the FCC's on-air contest disclosure requirements do go away, stations will need to focus on how state law contest requirements affect them before deciding whether they can actually scale back their on-air disclosures.
In fact, while a violation of the FCC's contest disclosure requirements often results in the imposition of a $4,000 fine, an improperly conducted contest can subject the sponsor, whether it be a station or an advertiser, to far more liability under consumer protection laws and state and federal gambling laws. In addition, state laws may impose record retention obligations, require registration and bonding before a contest can commence, or impose a number of other obligations. As promotional contests and sweepstakes continue to proliferate, knowing the ground rules for conducting them is critically important. If the FCC proceeds with its elimination of mandatory on-air contest disclosures for station-conducted contests, it will make broadcasters' lives a little easier, but not by as much as some might anticipate.
Posted October 22, 2014
Pillsbury's communications lawyers have published FCC Enforcement Monitor monthly since 1999 to inform our clients of notable FCC enforcement actions against FCC license holders and others. This month's issue includes:
- $86,400 Fine for Unlicensed and Unauthorized BAS Operations
- Missing "E/I" Graphic for Children's Television Programs Results in Fine
- Multiple Rule Violations Lead to $16,000 in Fines
Increased Fine for Continuing Broadcast Auxiliary Services Operations After Being Warned of Violations
Earlier this month, the FCC issued a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture ("NAL") against a Texas licensee for operating three broadcast auxiliary services ("BAS") stations without authorizations and operating an additional six BAS stations at variance with their respective authorizations. The FCC noted that it was taking this enforcement action because it has a duty to prevent unlicensed radio operations from potentially interfering with authorized radio communications in the United States and to ensure the efficient administration and management of wireless radio frequencies.
Section 301 of the Communications Act provides that "[n]o person shall use or operate any apparatus for the transmission of energy of communications or signals by radio . . . except under and in accordance with this Act and with a license in that behalf granted under the provisions of the Act." In addition, Section 1.947(a) of the FCC's Rules specifies that major modifications to BAS licenses require prior FCC approval, and Section 1.929(d)(1) provides that changes to BAS television coordinates, frequency, bandwidth, antenna height, and emission type (the types of changes the licensee made in this case) are major modifications. The base fine for operating a station without FCC authority is $10,000 and the base fine for unauthorized emissions, using an unauthorized frequency, and construction or operation at an unauthorized location, is $4,000.
In April 2013, the licensee submitted applications for three new "as built" BAS facilities and six modified facilities. The modifications pertained to updates to the licensed locations of some of the licensee's transmit/receive sites to reflect the as-built locations, changes to authorized frequencies, and recharacterization of sites from analog to digital. The licensee disclosed the three unauthorized stations and six stations operating at variance from their authorizations in these April 2013 applications. As a result of the licensee's disclosures, the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau referred the matter to the Enforcement Bureau (the "Bureau") for investigation. In November 2013, the Bureau's Spectrum Enforcement Division instructed the licensee to submit a sworn written response to a series of questions about its apparent unauthorized operations. The licensee replied to the Bureau in January 2014 and admitted that it operated the nine BAS facilities either without authorization or at variance with their authorizations. The licensee also admitted that it learned of the violations in May 2012 while conducting an audit of its BAS facilities. Finally, the licensee noted that it could not identify the precise dates when the violations occurred but that they had likely been ongoing for years and possibly since some of the stations were acquired in 1991 and 2001.
The FCC concluded that the licensee had willfully and repeatedly violated the FCC's rules and noted that the base fine amount was $54,000, comprised of $30,000 for the three unauthorized BAS stations and $24,000 for the six BAS stations not operating as authorized. The licensee had argued that a $4,000 base fine should apply to the three unauthorized BAS stations because the FCC had previously imposed a $4,000 fine for similar violations when the licensee had color of authority to operate the BAS stations pursuant to an existing license for its full-power station. The FCC rejected this argument and noted that its most recent enforcement actions applied a $10,000 base fine for unlicensed BAS operations even where the full-power station license was valid.
The FCC concluded that the extended duration of the violations, including the continuing nature of the violations after the licensee became aware of the unlicensed and unauthorized operations, merited an upward adjustment of the proposed fine by $32,400. The FCC indicated that the licensee's voluntary disclosure of the violations before the FCC began its investigation did not absolve the licensee of liability because of the licensee's earlier awareness of the violations and the extended duration of the violations. The FCC therefore proposed a total fine of $86,400.
Reliance on Foreign-Language Programmer Did Not Affect Licensee's $3,000 Fine
The Chief of the Video Division of the FCC's Media Bureau issued an NAL against a California licensee for failing to properly identify educational children's programming through display on the television screen of the "E/I" symbol.
The Children's Television Act of 1990 introduced an obligation for television broadcast licensees to offer programming that meets the educational and informational needs of children ("Core Programming"). Section 73.671(c)(5) of the FCC's Rules expands on this obligation by requiring that broadcasters identify Core Programming by displaying the "E/I" symbol on the television screen throughout the program.
The licensee filed its license renewal application on August 1, 2014. The licensee certified in the application that it had not identified each Core program at the beginning of each program and had failed to properly display the "E/I" symbol during educational children's programming aired on a Korean-language digital multicast channel. In September 2014, the licensee amended its license renewal application to specify the time period when the "E/I" symbol was not used and two days later amended the renewal application again to state that it had encountered similar issues with displaying the "E/I" symbol on the station's Chinese-language digital multicast channel.